6 young dancers rewarded with a strenuous summer

Intensive programs help build strength, connections in ballet

Howard Live

October 04, 2001|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Imagine dancing eight to 10 hours a day, for weeks at a stretch. That is what summer is like for many dance students participating in "summer intensive" programs across the United States.

Usually affiliated with professional dance companies such as the Joffrey Ballet or American Ballet Theatre, the summer programs offer to students the opportunity to improve technique, learn various styles, and meet professional and amateur dancers from across the country. Dancers say that these concentrated programs are worth the expense and the wear and tear on their bodies.

Ballerinas may seem delicate because of their long legs, arms and necks, but appearances can be deceiving.

"They look fragile and willowy, but they're really very strong," said Caryl Maxwell, director of the Ellicott City Ballet Guild and owner of a dance studio in Ellicott City. "In a 1 1/2 -hour class, a ballerina expends more energy than a football player does in an entire game."

Six members of the Ellicott City Ballet Guild took part in programs offered in Michigan, Washington state and Pennsylvania this summer. In most cases, the dancers had to audition to gain admission.

Guild member Elizabeth Fleckenstein, 17, is a senior at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. She auditioned in February for American Ballet Theatre's summer program in Detroit.

"The entire audition was like a normal dance class," she explained. "You do an hour on the barre and then an hour on the center floor. The ABT staff walks around and takes notes about your technique, your body type and your musicality. They videotape you, so they have a visual reference when they're deciding who to accept."

Fleckenstein received her letter of acceptance for the program about two months later. "I was very honored. ABT is a world-renowned company. It was great to be chosen from thousands of girls," she said.

Caitlin Emery, a 16-year-old junior at Centennial High School, was accepted into Pacific Northwest Ballet's summer program in Seattle.

"Dancing every single day for hours on end is beneficial to your stamina, flexibility and your strength," Emery said. "But dancing is hard on your body. I had a lot of aches and pains."

Some dancers seek out summer intensive programs every year. Fleckenstein first attended one when she was 14. "I highly recommend summer programs," she said. "It gives you a really good idea of what it would be like to dance in a company - the long days with several classes a day, and rehearsals on top of that. You're going every day, so you have a lot more opportunity for improvement."

Maxwell said programs range from $500 a week to several thousand dollars, plus housing, meals and travel. The Pacific Northwest Ballet's five-week program cost $1,000 for tuition and $2,465 for room and board.

Four other dancers - Rachel Severance of Mount de Sales Academy, Lani Yap of Notre Dame Prep, Kyleigh Sackandy of Centennial High School and Alison Moody of River Hill High School - attended the summer program run by Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. It was held at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and dancers stayed in dormitories on the campus.

The experience was a first for Moody, a 14-year-old freshman. "I missed my family, but it was so exciting," she said. "For me, it was really inspiring to see all the professional dancers and the people who had succeeded as dancers. To receive individual comments from them was great because they were able to give some interesting advice and comments."

Maxwell, who has taught classical ballet at her studio on Main Street for 27 years, said dance companies usually wait until a dancer has graduated from high school to extend an offer of employment. She said that participating in summer programs can help a dancer who is looking for a job.

"Sometimes they'll be remembered by dancers involved in a company from the summer experience," she said. "The dance world is very small - and through these kinds of experiences, our dancers get to jump in the pond and start swimming."

"It's not cheap, but I encourage my students to participate, especially if they are considering dance as a career," she said.

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